Dogs are scavengers by nature, but sometimes these instincts cause them to eat something inappropriate, which results in gastrointestinal upset. Dietary indiscretion is a common reason dogs vomit, but what if the cause is more problematic? How do you know when the issue is benign or worrisome? Our team at Billings Animal Family Hospital answers your frequently asked questions about vomiting dogs.

Did my dog vomit?

You might think knowing if your dog vomited would be obvious, but dogs also frequently regurgitate their food. While both actions involve ejecting gastrointestinal contents from their mouth, vomiting is a more forceful process in which the abdominal muscles contract. Regurgitation is a passive process and is not accompanied by drooling and retching, which are commonly seen when a dog vomits. The contents are also different. Vomit usually contains digested food, whereas regurgitated material contains undigested food that is typically cylindrical in form. Regurgitation can occur for numerous reasons, including esophageal inflammation, ulceration, or dilation, and eating too fast.

Why did my dog vomit?

Vomiting is a mechanism used to protect the body from dangerous substances. It occurs when the vomiting center in the brain is triggered. Four different areas can cause this stimulation:

  • Gastrointestinal tract — Disturbances in the gastrointestinal tract can result in vomiting. These issues include infectious diseases (e.g., parvovirus), ingestion of foreign objects, and gastric dilation-volvulus (i.e., bloat).
  • Vestibular system — Inner ear abnormalities can cause vomiting. This is the mechanism that results in carsickness.
  • Chemoreceptor trigger zone — Certain drugs and hormones stimulate this area of the medulla oblongata, resulting in vomiting.
  • Cortex and thalamus — Severe pain or anxiety can stimulate these areas in the brain, resulting in vomiting.

When should I be worried if my dog vomits?

Not every vomiting episode is a cause for concern, but your dog requires veterinary attention if they demonstrate:

  • Additional signs — Vomiting accompanied by additional signs, including diarrhea, fever, lethargy, decreased appetite, inability to urinate, pain, or distended abdomen, indicates a need for immediate veterinary care.
  • Unproductive retching — Foreign body ingestion and bloat can cause unproductive retching, and are considered veterinary emergencies.
  • Poison or foreign body ingestion — If you know or suspect your dog has swallowed a poisonous substance or a foreign body, they should be evaluated by a veterinary professional.
  • Bloody vomit — Conditions that result in bloody vomit, such as gastrointestinal bleeding, rodenticide ingestion, and bleeding disorders, are serious and require medical attention.
  • Chronic vomiting — Vomiting that persists for several days could indicate a serious condition.

What do I do if my dog vomits?

If your dog vomits, evaluate their demeanor. If they do not fit the above criteria and you feel you can manage the situation at home, follow these steps:

  • Remove food and water bowls — If your dog’s stomach is irritated, additional food and water could cause further vomiting episodes. Withhold food and water for at least two hours. 
  • Evaluate the vomit — Look through the vomit to see if you can ascertain a cause. Characteristics include:
  • Yellow — Yellow vomit is common when your has an empty stomach. Bile builds up in the stomach, irritating the gastric lining. 
  • Foamy white — When acid builds up in the stomach, your dog’s vomit can appear white and foamy.
  • Red or pink — This indicates blood, and your dog should be evaluated by a veterinary professional.
  • Worms — Parasite infections can be heavy enough that they irritate your dog’s stomach, resulting in vomit containing worms.
  • Reintroduce water — If your dog remains vomit free for at least two hours, you can offer them a small amount of water. If your dog drinks and holds the water down for an hour, you can gradually reintroduce larger amounts. 
  • Reintroduce food — If your dog continues to hold water down for several hours, you can introduce a small portion of easily digestible food, such as boiled chicken breast and steamed rice. Commercial diets are also available for these situations. Gradually increase the amounts over one to two days, and then start mixing in your dog’s regular food and transition them back to their food over one to two days.

How do I prevent my dog from vomiting?

You will not be able to prevent everything that causes your dog to vomit, but by following these steps, some causes can be prevented:

  • Vaccines — Keep your dog current on all recommended vaccines to protect them from infectious diseases that can cause vomiting.
  • Wellness exams — Take your dog in for regular wellness exams to catch conditions early when they can still be managed.
  • Diet changes — Do not change your dog’s diet suddenly. If you need to change their food, do so gradually over one to two weeks.
  • Table scraps — Avoid giving your dog table scraps. Many human foods are dangerous for dogs and can cause serious issues. Others are too rich for them and can cause gastrointestinal upset.
  • Small objects — Ensure your dog does not have access to toys or objects that they could potentially ingest, resulting in gastrointestinal blockage.

We hope this guide helps you know how to react if your dog is vomiting. However, if you still have questions, or if you believe your pet needs veterinary attention, please do not hesitate to contact our team at Billings Animal Family Hospital so we can alleviate their distress.